The Corner

National Security & Defense

Walls Can Work, but Not on Their Own

People wave from behind the border fence in El Paso, Texas, October 26, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

David Bier, one of the Cato Institute’s anti-borders bantams, said earlier this year:

Even if you get a sea-to-shining-sea wall, then people would just build ladders, ramps and other ways — tunnels — in order to get around it. It’s just not reflective of the reality, which is people will come if they want to come.

This lie-back-and-pretend-to-enjoy-it approach to the border was seemingly confirmed recently by two stories about wannabe illegal aliens circumventing border barriers, one story involving tunnels, the other a ladder. But in both instances, the barriers worked, demonstrating their value to border control.

First came reports that two hand-dug tunnels were discovered under Hungary’s border fence with Serbia, at which several dozen illegals were arrested. The fences were built in 2015 after some 400,000 people from the Middle East and beyond streamed across Hungary, most on their way to Germany in response to Angela Merkel’s invitation.

The fence worked, reducing the number of border infiltrators from nearly 100,000 in October 2015 to only a few hundred the following month. And it’s still working: When my colleague Todd Bensman and I visited this spring, we were told only about 25 to 30 illegal aliens a day were being apprehended.

Here’s a photo I took of Hungary’s border fence a few miles east of where the tunnels were discovered:

The Great Wall of China it’s not, but it works.

The reason a few tunnels don’t negate the effect of the fence is, as Todd wrote, “the Hungarians didn’t just build a wall and leave it” — they incorporated it into a system, with policy changes, stepped-up patrols, and the like, to ensure that the few who are hardy enough to actually manage to tunnel under or climb over aren’t able to get away.

The other news story that had the anti-borders crowd chortling was video of some men in Mexicali scaling the bollard fencing with a ladder in broad daylight:

One man got over, and slid down the U.S. side, fire pole-style. What many of the comments to the tweet, by a reporter from the Palm Springs, Calif., paper, missed was a Border Patrol truck that pulled up shortly after the one successful crosser hit the ground. As the Border Patrol reported the next day, the athlete who made it over the fence was arrested. That’s because, as in Hungary and everywhere else that uses border barriers, the “wall” is not just the wall. A Border Patrol official standing at the site of the breach explained:

The border wall system consists not only of a physical barrier, but also lighting, patrol roads, and detection technology. While the physical barrier serves to slow down illicit traffic, the detection technology alerts our agents as to where and when threats emerge. The patrol roads allow for a rapid response. In this particular incident, the border wall system worked exactly as designed. The illicit traffic was slowed down, the detection technology alerted our agents, agents responded, and the subject was apprehended.

Even if the one strong young man who made it over had managed to elude capture, the kind of pedestrian fencing he scaled remains virtually insuperable for the kinds of large groups, including women, children, and old people, that were swarming across the border in alarming numbers earlier this year.

Neither wall fetishists not anti-wall fetishists have it right. Physical barriers aren’t a magic bullet, but they have an indispensable role to play in improving security.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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